Friday, December 21, 2012

"Beautiful Ruins," by Jess Walter

When I requested Jess Walter’s novel “Beautiful Ruins” (Harper, 2012) online at my local library’s website, I was 128th in line to get it. I am often far back in line on the library lists, but this was an unusually long list, so apparently the book is hugely popular. I have also read a few positive reviews of the novel. In any case, I waited patiently to see what all the fuss was about, finally got the book, and now have read it. It is a “big” book, covering several time periods (mainly two, fifty years apart) and several places around the world, most notably a small seaside village in Italy and Hollywood in the U.S. There are some very original characters, as well as some real life people, including the actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the filming of the movie “Cleopatra.” Two of the characters in particular -- Pasquale, the Italian owner of the Hotel Adequate View, and Dee, an American actress -- are very sympathetic, and we come to really care about what happens to them. Others are not so appealing, but their eccentricities and foibles are fun to read about; see especially the Hollywood producer Michael Deane. The author weaves some true details into the fictional events of the novel. Satire and sentimentality, show biz and real life are intriguingly intertwined. The "beautiful ruins" of the title perhaps refer both to the Italian scenes and to the way the characters change over the 50 years. Although the novel moves around so much in time and place, clear chapter headings make it easy to keep track, and the narrative is an absorbing one. By the end of the novel, all the stories have been woven together in a very satisfactory way. This book is well written and a “good read.”

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